Muscle Hill has sights set on the greats

As a third-generation horseman, Greg Peck is well versed in the art of evaluating potential talent.

Thus, when the veteran trainer first began working with a handsome bay son of Muscles Yankees, he knew at the very least the chance was there to become part of something special.

"He was like the kid who could throw the touchdown pass at an early age, you could see he had what it took," Peck said of Muscle Hill. "But could I say he was going to be this great? You couldn't say that."

Few horsemen could have predicted Muscle Hill would develop the way he has because few standardbreds have showcased the kind of effortless talent he has in his career.

As Muscle Hill heads into Saturday's $600,000 Kentucky Futurity — the final leg of the trotting Triple Crown — at The Red Mile, the main question is not where he stacks up among his peers, but where he ranks in the discussion of all-time greats.

Since losing his first career start by a neck at the Meadowlands last July, Muscle Hill has been nothing short of flawless winning 17 races in a row, including all nine starts this season.

More impressive than his current streak is the amount of ease with which Muscle Hill appears to conquer his foes.

When he cruised to a 6-length victory in the $1.5 million Hambletonian — the first leg of the Triple Crown — Muscle Hill's time of 1:50.1 equaled the world record set in 2006.

Since that win, the colt has gone on to post victories in the World Trotting Derby and, most recently, the Canadian Trotting Classic with no horse getting closer than 1 length to him at the finish.

"I've heard several people say that (he's an all-time great), and it's very nice," said Peck, who did not run Muscle Hill in the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Yonkers Trot. "It's a wonderful compliment for the horse. I would love to go the rest of the year and have him finish out his career with the vision of him doing things as easily as he has."

The Kentucky Futurity is unique in that it is run in heats, meaning the same horse must win twice on the same card.

Muscle Hill — who will enter stud at Southwind Farm in New Jersey for 2010 — was made the 2-5 morning-line favorite for his heat, race No. 8 on the card.

The top five finishers in each division then return for the 11th race and if a third horse wins that heat, the three winners would compete in a race-off, slated for race No. 14.

"I don't think you can prepare any differently (for heats) because to try and simulate what they would have to go through would be asking too much," Peck said. "(Muscle Hill) came out of his race in Canada fresh so we'll have him ready to go and hope for the best."